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The Big Picture

'Have you ever heard of Plato, Aristotle, Socrates? Morons.' -- Vizzini from "The Princess Bride"

Sunday, April 30, 2006

"Trust Me, I'm RIGHT, I'm always right about everything"

If there's one thing about being a progressive that distinguishes itself from being conservative, it is the acknowledgement of being wrong sometimes. I have been wrong before (gasp!), in fact, I would consider my dripping sarcasm towards AiG to be proof of that. (I am patiently waiting for the FBI to show up at my door, in regards to this post on the AiG.) While I think they deserve it, as they do even worse to non-believers, I cringe to think that I stooped down to their level of abject vitriol. It pains me to think that what I sent them is correct, but it is over the top in-your-face correctness. When was the last time a conservative said "oops." Yeah, I cannot remember anytime either. So, it must be nice being right all the time. Even when you're wrong, simply yell out "traitor" or "unpatriotic" towards the person pointing out your mistake, and that automatically turns the mistake into sacrosanct truth.

It is very difficult being wrong, you must not just admit to it, but you must do something to make it right. That is not easy. Like the president says, "its hard work." Not only that, but when you know that it possible you could be wrong, you try to make sure that you're not wrong. In other words, you fact check, you look at varying viewpoints, and you try to dig out the truth, before you open your big fat mouth.

Well, with that in mind, I've stuggled with how to present my piece on Annie Angel. I do not want to do a hack piece, as much as I would like to (yes, there is a back story here, and I will get to that in a moment). But I still have this desire to point out the silliness in the Big Picture that we know as Christianity.

What constitutes Christianity? Is it simply believing that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior, or is there more to it; actions and life-changing aspects to it as well. The New Testament is very unclear on this controversy. Paul, in Galatians 2:16 tells us that works justifies nothing, only through faith in Jesus is one justified. But then in James 2:26, we learn that faith alone is dead, works is also required for salvation.

Christians, are almost as vicious towards opposing doctrines of other Christians as they are towards non-Christians. All based on what is necessary to achieve salvation. What beliefs are required, what works are forbidden and what works are crucial. The Catholic/Protestant divide alone shows this to be true.

This brings us to the hallowed Annie Angel. There are actually two questions regarding her. The first being is she a "real" Christian, or just a parody of Christian beliefs. The second is if she is not a parody, then can her Christian doctrine be considered Christian at all? At issue is her copious use of profanity, and her acerbic hatred spewed forth upon anyone she doesn't agree with. Maybe profanity is a valid debate tactic for 12 year olds, but for an adult it is nothing but an admission that there is no substance behind your argument. When it comes to hatred; hating those who disagree with you shows a lack of self-control, and all that is rotten within humanity. I'm not talking about hating those who wish to destroy you, like al Qaeda, I'm talking about hating people who disagree with you on matters of philosophy/policy. It is an irrational hatred.

The use of vulgarity lends itself to parody very easily. But irrational hatred is very difficult to fake and mock. Thus I think it is doubtful that Annie is a parody site. I think she means what she says, down to the last sexual euphamism.

Consider her "flagship" post, 'How To Be A Good Christian Wife'
"ALWAYS serve fresh orange juice. Only whores use frozen."
"Never initiate sex yourself. Only whores initiate sex."

The first quote sounds like a parody, the second is Biblical and is actually common in fundamental Christianity. Then look at her profile:
"Hi my name is Annie, I'm a 36 year old fitness professional and I love Jesus. Do you? Jesus loves you and He doesn't want you to burn in Hell. Right now you are damned, unclean, your soul is a filthy rag and your future is doomed. Let Jesus into your heart and you will find eternal life"

That sounds genuinely Christian. This is not to mention that the only book she lists is the Bible(KJV). I found that rather amusing, as she is wholly ignorant of its contents, and one could easily surmise that she had never even read it for herself (although that is only a guess based on her lack of knowledge on what the Bible does say.) Annie never quotes the Bible, or even links to quotes of the Bible. She never uses the Bible at all in any of her Christian writings. That is odd, coming from such a strict Christian.

So is she a parody?

I think not. She possesses all the hallmarks of a real Christian, contradictions intact. Thus, she is not a parody, but that her actual beliefs is a parody in and of itself. That is where I and many others, got hung up. She was/is serious, but her views are just so horrid, that they cannot seem truly hers, even though they are.

That was my view. But I needed help on figuring it out for sure. So I asked an honest Christian, one I know to be a true believer, Bryan, of The Narrow. He tended to agree that she was not a parody site, but that her views were a parody of actual Christianity. I agree. Bryan wrote me in email:
"I don't really know what to say about this. I went and read several
of her posts and I have to say, if she is representative of the
Christian faith, I certainly better reread my Bible, b/c I've missed
the parts that say it's ok to demean others, engage in ad hominem
attacks with vulgar language and generally have a very dim outlook on

This answers our second question as well. She does not fit in with what it means to be a real Christian, according to a real Christian. Bryan is correct, there is much in the Bible that discounts her views. For example:
Matthew 5:44 "But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you" [NKJV].
Matthew 22:38-40 "38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’[a] 40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”" [NKJV]
1 Timothy 1:9-11 "9 knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, 10 for fornicators, for sodomites, for kidnappers, for liars, for perjurers, and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine, 11 according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God which was committed to my trust." [NKJV]

As a Christian, Annie seems wholly unaware of these well-worn Christian passages. She does not even like being reminded of them. At this point I would like to share my "beef" with her. To a post she wrote, I merely quoted the above passages, and made the remark she needs to follow the dictates of the Bible, if she wants to be a good Christian. For that accurate description, she blasted me with profanity, wild accusations, and utter comtempt. Certainly not the behavior of an actual Christian. See this thread (near the bottom) at Sadly, No! for more on this.

So.. I am going out on a limb here and calling her the genuine article and not a parody. But her doctrines are so out of line with even other fundamental Christians that they cannot take her seriously either. I may be wrong here, and if I am, then I apologize to all real Christians out there for placing her firmly on your side. But I just cannot help but call her the real deal.

Somehow it just feels good to point out the fruits of the doctrines and politics of conservative Christianity as embodied in Annie Angel.

Maybe The Conservatives Are Right -- Intolerance Is Good

Whenever I start my little naval-gazing trips, I usually start with "Why is this country so messed up, and headed in the exact wrong direction?" The answer to that is easy, the conservative Republicans are in charge of the entire Federal Government (well, except for the executive branch, which is controlled by neo-cons). Conservatives are deeply beholden to the "religious right" because it was the fundamentalist Christians who swept them into office and have kept them there since. For the record, that is how Democracy works, the vote-getters are rewarded with public office, so I cannot complain about that -- this is the voter's fault. Given this, what can be done to fix things? That is where my gazing has taken me.

One obvious fact is that Democrats have been hugely unsuccessful at winning elections. This is nearly unimaginable given that the majority of Americans support the goals and policies of Democrats, yet they still vote in Republicans. In a nutshell, the difference between Republicans and Democrats is that Rs support complete deregulation of business, and uber-regulation of the personal lives of Americans, and Ds support more regulation of business and deregulation of personal lives of Americans. As are pro-civil rights for all Americans, Rs want to force all Americans into living under strict Christian law (an American Taliban, if you will.) America was based on a live-and-let-live credo, and it still permeates American thought today. The fundamental Christians want to remove that, and make anything they don't agree with, illegal. Sex before marriage? Gone. Unregulated sex within marriage? Gone. Abortion, homosexuality, birth control, marriage rights for all, equality for women, minorities, religion? All gone. Children being raised by the religious choices of their parents and not that of the state? Gone with a capital G! Science? Gone, we can learn all we need to know about the universe from the Bible.

With that background of policy on the personal forefront, Rs should, in theory, be run out of government on a rail, long before enough time has passed to tar and feather them. But this has not happened. America is still voting for the same people who want to take away the very rights Americans cherish most. Again, Why is that?

I think the answer is simple. Intolerance.

Conservatives have locked on to that concept and will not let go for anything. The beauty of intolerance is that it plays directly into the fears of people. Once you have scared the public into fearing the unknown (or possible), getting them to vote your way is easy.

Democrats, on the other hand preach tolerance to a fault, unless it suits them to be intolerant. It is this dichotomy that turns off voters. Consider this screed by "liberal" Melinda Barton in Raw Story. There she embraces some of the old-fashioned, down-home intolerance made famous by conservatives everywhere. She demonizes atheists, and in the process, shoots another nail into the coffin of Democrat progressivity. PZ Myers intelligently dismantles her argument here. But the story does not end there. He also wrote a guest column for Raw Story that presents an alternative view.

We have clearly come up against the same wall we always hit. How to define tolerance, and get the message out. PZ does a good job, but still does not make the clear distinction for what it means to be tolerant/intolerant. Intolerance of bad policy bad advice is not only acceptable, it is mandatory. Intolerance of viewpoints or opinions that differ from yours is bad, in an Eeeeviilllee sort of way. Intolerance of differing lifestyles, religions, gender, race, is outright illegal.

Tolerance, on the other hand, is not so easy. Thus, the probable reason why so many Democrats trip all over it. Tolerance of the KKK, for example, is a non-starter. But how do you go about explaining that one cannot be tolerant of the KKK, yet be very tolerant of that upcoming (in the generic sense) gay pride parade? That is not easy to explain. It comes down to defining harm of the society. The KKK preaching hate towards minorities leads to unrest and violence. Gay Pride marches (desire to) lead to equality and acceptance. Drawing that line, is difficult. It cannot be done in a soundbyte.

That is where conservatives have the advantage. Their preaching of straight up intolerance is easy. "Hate Gays, or they will turn your children gay!" "A woman's place is in the home. If they get equality, then there will be no one left to raise the kids; and drugs, pregnancy, gang violence will result!" Of course, there is the whole barrel of Christian fear-mongering along the line of this being a "Christian Nation" and simply allowing people to choose other religious doctrines will lead to the destruction of our civilization.

That said, the answer is clear. Democrats need to switch from a message of tolerance, to one of intolerance. Hammer away using a simple, easy to understand message combining intolerance with fear:

The Democrat party will not now, nor will it ever stand for intolerance. The Conservative Republicans want to take away your happiness, your freedom, your liberty, and replace it with their brand of dictatorship. If you want the right to raise your children how you see fit, go to the church of your choice, choose your own lifestyle, then vote for the true party of intolerance, the Deomcrats. Democrats will fight the control over you and your loved ones pushed by the Republicans.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Annie Angel, Virgin of God

Sometimes I really love being an atheist. Not in the usual, I must be responsible for myself and all my actions because I don't purchase any of that "God Comet" that christianity sells...

But I love being an atheist.

Go, check out that foul-mouthed secretly satanic Ikean parody of Christianity..

Ms. Annie Angel.

More to follow.

The Devil in me

Sometimes I cannot resist giving certain Christian groups a hard time. A few years back I sent in a sterling resume to "Reclaiming America" of the Coral Ridge Ministries. They actually did respond to me, but I had to, in good faith, turn them down -- I mean how long could I turn out that dreck and they still believe I was on their team? Tonight, I got another bug up my bottom, and sent a letter of interest to AiG for the position of Speaker and Researcher of Geology... [Yes I know it was mean, but I figure that they have received enough email from me in the past to recognize who I am.] I seriously doubt I will get a response from this, but it was fun making this up.

So here is my letter of interest:

I would like to submit my resume for your consideration in the position of "Speaker and Researcher of Geology" for Answers in Genesis. I believe I have many, if not all of the necessary qualifications, and would make an excellent addition to your (or should I say our) team. I was saved many years ago, when I was finishing up my B.S. in Nuclear Engineering at the Pennsylvania State University. I was walking past a MAC machine one day when I was visited by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He told me that my knowledge in atomic physics and radioactive decay could be used to destroy the truth. (Up until that point I was a Catholic.) He told me that radioactive decay could not be used to determine the age of the Earth because God had set it all up to look older than it really is. Unfortunately, the Devil uses God's "mistake" to deceive many otherwise believers. God made this universe "look" old, to test us, but the Devil uses it to draw away those of us who trust(ed) in scientific facts. Now that I know this, I work tirelessly to show that facts are not truths.

I am a conservative Republican. So I know how to make any facts work to my advantage. For example, I know that God is anti-abortion. Even when some liberal comes up to me and claims that 2 Kings 2:23,24 shows that god kills children, I tell them that children are evil and tools of Satan, but infants are innocent. I go on to say that God knows all, he knew that those children would grow up to be tools of Satan, and thus they deserved to die. When those liberals respond that God also knows the minds of infants and that he is "hardening the hearts" (Exodus 4:21) of the mothers who perform the abortions, I have a further response: "Just because God knows all, and forces those women to commit sin, does not make the sin right."

I can turn any fact which indicates otherwise, into proof of God. For example, when someone come up to me and claims that the Bible says the value of pi is exactly 3.0 as known from 1 Kings 7:23 or 2 Chronicles 4:2, I claim that the Bible is not a mathbook, it is simply an approximation, or that the author really meant the inner circumference and outer diameter, or I can even claim that the value of pi really is 3.0, and that God is right, but we as humans have arrived at the wrong value (3.14159....). I can make any claim that you want sound like the truth over and above the facts. Another example is the "waterless" clouds (Jude 1:12) truth as given in James. Now it may be true that all clouds on Earth are made of water vapor, but clouds on other planets can and are, in fact water vapor free; they are methane or other organic gas clouds. So that alone is proof that God is the master of science. Just because all clouds on earth are made of water means nothing in the face of that fact. I can make up any excuse to prove that there is nothing in the bible that is anti-science. I am more than happy to claim that the mustard seed is the smallest seed of al plants because most people are not aware of the size of moss seeds, etc. Granted that argument only works on people who are ignorant of biology, but isn't that our target crowd anyway?

I can do this with any irregularity of the Bible that you need to "Rove" out of. For example, I am fully versed in all the excuses which explain the radically different geneologies of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ as given in Matthew and Luke. Clearly Luke was talking about Mary when he claimed the lineage of Joseph, and Matthew was actually talking about Joseph when he gave Joseph's lineage. The fact that this means the Bible does not literally mean what it says is easily explained by Christian politics of the first century, in that they still thought women were not the equals of men, and thus could not openly be the progenitors of lineage. That this means that Joseph and Mary would be relatives means nothing, as at the time, genetics had not yet degraded to the point where inbreeding was a problem (that genetic point has only been passed in the last 100-200 years).

This is just but a small sample of how I can explain away Biblical contradiction through obfuscation and outright reveleation of truth in place of fact. I learned this through my years of experience promoting Bush and the Republican agenda.

Getting back to my qualifications, I am a nuclear engineer, with a M.S. in Health Physics from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who has worked on geology projects at the Nevada Test Site, evaluating the transport of radionuclides through groundwaters. I think I can put my extensive experience to use in the line of Jesus. However, be forewarned, I truly believe that God has predestined us all, to either paradise in Heaven, or eternal torture in hell. I know this becuase God had to set every molecule, atom, photon, and subatomic particle in motion 6,000 years ago, this means that from God's perspective, there is no such thing as "free will", even though we as mere humans who do not understand fully god's glory, fully believe that we have free will (and again I will state that the Bible says nothing of free will, thus it does not exist). However, since this is an issue of perspective, I am flexible enough to be willing to profess human free will, if you at AiG want to claim it exists.

I look forward to hearing from you soon, and will be happy to forward you my professional C.V. or a simple resume, and will further express my love and devotion to my master, the Lord and Creator, Jesus Christ, Son of God.

Sometimes being wicked is just too much fun, wouldn't you agree?

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Cameron's Creationism

I just don't know if I can let this go without some more snark...

Creationism in all its forms (Intelligent Design, Old Earth Creationism, and Young Earth Creationism) has as its main weapon a certain intuitiveness to it. In that I mean it is simple, straightforward and clearcut. It requires no knowledge of the Earth, biology, chemistry or physics. In fact, it requires a certain ignorance on its main source, Genesis of the Bible. No matter what "big" words you add to it, it is always nothing more than the notion that "well God did it, and that is all that you need to know."

Creationism does no science, it does no medicine, it does no research into how the world operates on a day-to-day and eon-to-eon basis. Creationism, absent of science, would still lay claim to a flat earth that has a small golden disk arc over it in the heavens which only extends up so far, and then begins God's house. Creationism would still use leeches as a medical tool against most diseases, and would never have gotten around to investigating germs or the spread of disease. Instead Creationism would still lay claim to demons as the source of many diseases (that couldn't be cured by leeches).

Why? Because this is what the Bible says is true of the human condition. The Bible never speaks of germ theory, viruses, or genetic mutations (or recessive genetic traits) causing inheritable diseases. If no science had ever bucked the "God does it and we are powerless to understand it" tact of the Bible, then no breakthroughs in medicine would have ever occurred. This is not to say that medicine was done by heretics or atheists, rather it was done by people who had the audacity to question what was once beyond question -- God's plan.

Today, creationism is the last holdout of that failed worldview. Medicine, physics, astronomy and biology have all proven themselves to be not just valid and useful, but right -- and by right, I mean True with a capital "T". Creationism clings to that view that we cannot, by definition, ascertain how organisms change over time because God simply created them the way they are today. Oh sure, most, if not all, creationists agree that "microevolution" happens; even though they fail to get involved in any of that research, simply relying on real science to do that for them. But they all believe that there is some inherant "stop sign" in the genetic code, or wherever, that prevents all those accumulated micro changes from adding up to a species change. "A dog has never given birth to a cat" is their plea. But that is not what evolution says, not even close. Evolution can be more accurately (even though this simplification is not entirely correct either) described as a pre-dog gives birth to another pre-dog who gives birth to another pre-dog (and so on) and then after thousands of generations, that last pre-dog is nothing like the first pre-dog, it is now a pre-cat. Furthermore, other pre-dogs (identical to that first pre-dog) did the same thing through the generations and arrived at a pre-dog that is now nothing like the first pre-dog, but is more like today's dogs. Each step is a micro change, and each step led to two different lineages, one for today's dogs and one for today's cats. As proof evolution does not do this, creationists argue that two floors of a building are seperated by 10 feet. No creature has legs ten feet long, and thus no creature can step from one floor to the next. But build a staircase, and suddenly one step at a time you can get from the first to the second floor with considerably shorter legs. Creationists argue that the staircase is impossible because God said it was. Intuitive, indeed.

So let's apply all this to Ron Comfort who appears in Kirk Cameron's video. First I would like to make clear the two main points of this five minute section of that video.
1) Creationism makes sense intuitively, just look at how supportive the banana is for human consumption.
2) Because of this simplicity much less faith is required for believing creationism than for believing evolutionism (and by default, atheism).

The intuitive problem has already shown to be not just useless, but counter-productive, as intuitive views of the world and its origins leads to Biblical creationism and a "God did it" mentality. Once you accept that "God did it", then investigating how it works is pointless. Why investigate how bacteria mutate, or how viruses can jump from one species to another, if you accept that God made them exactly what they are, and any investigation is encroaching upon God's sole knowledge (which is unknowable to us mere humans). Why bother? Why not simply do what the Bible says and pray for the demons to be excercized, or use the "laying on of hands" to cure? The answer is those things do not work, the first scientists recognized this and began to look for themselves into the causes. The cures came afterwards. If the Bible worked there would never have been any reason whatsoever to look towards more naturalistic causes.

Sure the Bible's account in Genesis is simple and easy to understand. It was written almost three thousand years ago! Those simple goat herders had no knowledge of physics or biology from which to draw their stories of creation from. So they made up the simplest and easiest story they could. They came up with: "God Did It!" It takes very little faith or knowledge to accept that. But their severely limited knowledge of the world, and the universe, shows through in today's defenders of their creation story. They use only the simplest and most convenient examples to prove it. Ron and Kirk chose the banana. It was compared to a soda can. (I would have chosen something more nourishing and healthy than soda, but then again I am not a creationist.) The banana is easily held in the hand! The banana has an easy to open top! The banana has peels which make access convenient! It is all so clear and simple. Much more so than that ubercomplicated evolution. But what about coconuts? They possess none of those properties. They must be cracked open forceably, their access is inconvenient and difficult, there is no easy way to hold and eat it. What about potatoes? They must be dug up out of the ground, sliced into thin strips and fried in oil (peanut or vegetable). [Yes I am referring to french fries here...] Ron's simple claims of creationism look ridiculous when one thinks of how the real world operates. His is the simple faith that fails to match the real complexities of the world all humans actually live in.

This leads us into the second claim of Ron and Kirk. The amount of faith needed for creationism versus evolution. First let us consider what faith is. In the epistle to the Hebrews, faith is described as: "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" [Hebrews 11:1 NKJV]. Hebrews 11:2,3 further describe those "things not seen".

I would like to open this rebuttal with this statement: "I do not now, nor have I ever, had any faith that 2 + 2 = 4." There is no need for faith to make that statement true. Faith in mathematics is useless. The same goes for gravity. I do not have faith that gravity will continue to keep me firmly attached to the surface of the earth. Faith is useless in this context as well. The same for the sun rising (i.e. the earth rotating), or the moon orbiting the earth. Faith is not a factor in these.

But suddenly when it comes to evolution, out of nowhere, creationists claim evolution is all about faith, and so much faith in fact, that it is far greater than the amount of faith necessary to be a Christian. I will point the reader to the New Testament and Paul's epistles to discern that faith is the only currency Christians have. Faith in Jesus is the path to heaven -- the ONLY path to heaven. And we know that faith is the substance of things hoped for. Not things known to be true, like 2 + 2 = 4. The point is that Christianity is founded on the idea of faith, this hope that things unseen are real. But what of evolution? Is it also based on faith? I have never seen one single article, book, essay, or manuscript that described evolution in terms of faith. In fact, the opposite is true of all the literature of evolution. Evolution is based solely on evidence, the things seen.

Thus there is a duplicitousness to the statement that it takes more faith to believe in evolution than it does creationism. There is no evidence, the things seen, to back up creationism, whereas there are mountains of evidence backing up evolution. Thus the only real comparison of faith in evolution versus creationism comes down to what you trust more, evidence of things unknowable or that of things knowable (and already known). If taking things known is to be called faith, then you inevitably come up with having to claim that it must be taken on faith that 2 + 2 = 4, because it is knowable and known in exactly the same way that genetics and fossils are known.

Finally, how much must Christians (and Christianity) cheapen the foundation of their religion, if they are going to claim that it takes more faith to believe in evolution than it does creationism (and Christianity). They are essentially saying that the bedrock of their religion -- faith -- is so tiny, when compared to the mountain of faith required to believe that 2 + 2 = 4 or that evolution leads to concrete results that they themselves use in their everyday lives (e.g. disinfectants to kill germs to protect from disease, new anti-bacterial medications). How can faith in Christianity be so small, when it is the entire makeup of the religion. How can it be less than "faith" in evolution. Wouldn't that make the Bible's definition of faith proof that evolution is real, since evolution requires "more faith" than Christianity, according to Christian doctrine, if Christianity is to be based solely on faith?

That Christians would be so willing to cheapen their own faith into non-consequence just to destroy evolution must tell you how little of substance there really is to Christianity.

And for the record: It takes zero faith to be an atheist. Atheists base their "religion" on what is known, that is, what is seen. If God is by definition, unseen, as Hebrews would have you believe, then there can be no faith to atheism, it is by Biblical proclamation totally faith-free. An atheist says merely that, "I see no evidence of God, therefore I don't believe in God." If the evidence changes, then the belief of the atheist changes, pure and simple observation. So far, that has not occurred.

End Note:
At least for the time being, the best and the brightest of Christian apologetics can point to the Kirk Cameron video showing Ron Comfort holding a phalic banana in one hand and poking it into his other hand (closed into the shape of a vagina) and saying this is the best evidence of creationism -- EVER! Certainly evolution is doomed after this intellectual display...

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Kirk Cameron and Creationism

It never ceases to amaze me just how silly Creationists are. Kirk Cameron made this video to defend creationism. Watch the first five minutes of it. You will love the part about the almighty banana.

My thought on this: If the banana were such a perfect demonstration of why Biblical creationism is true; then what the heck is up with the watermelon? Certainly Gallager's smash-o-matic cannot be God's ingenius plan???

Thanks to Crooks & Liars (and all the other sites this clip showed up on!)

Update: I have written a new post here which points out the silliness of Kirk's video even more clearly.

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Sunday, April 16, 2006

War On Christianity


It seems like we atheists (or is it secular humanists??) have failed once again in our not-so-covert war on Christianity. I look around me and all I see are Christians celebrating Easter today. It must be really tough to be so persecuted and still do everything you normally do with zero resistence.

I would like to throw some love to Dan Barker here, please read his Easter Challenge.

Please, comment here on your thoughts regarding this Mimsian "controversy"....

I guess I should not have mixed two topics in one post, my bad. I would be interested in knowing your thoughts on the Easter Challenge, but if you want to comment on the inanity of Mims, well you can do that too.

Update 2:
I would like to add a bit about the concept of "truth" here. I think that everyone can agree that truth is an absolute; it exists and will not change. What does change is our (humanity's) approximation of the truth. Thus if some (any) path taken towards truth is found to be leading us astray from that truth, then it should be abandoned, in favor of another path. This is, what has happened with the bible -- it is the wrong path, and been shown conclusively so. Thus it becomes crucial to show all that this is the case. That is why I do what I do with respect to proving the utter fallacy of the Bible -- I wantthe truth to become known, and the Bible is the wrong path to truth.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Big Con??

Suppose there is a company, X, who is not a legitimate company, but a scam. What would be the warning signs?

The company, X, is a new company, and much smaller than its competitors. Oh, and factor this in as well: It is a "family values" company from an uber-conservative western state (no, not Texas).

The first clue would be that it sells something that is free, or requires no 'value added'. Further the entire cost of the product, lets call it P, is able to be written off as a business expense of quarterly tax reports. That would mean the entire cost to X for purchasing and reselling P is zero ($0.0). The only other costs for the product is the marketing of it, also a legitimate business expense that can be deducted.

Second, the selling of P is primarily pushed through a retailer, preferable a very large one with both deep pockets and a good reputation. Lets refer to the retailer as Y. The arrangement is that Y sells P in its stores for X, taking a percentage of the sale revenue. However, the percentage Y gets is much less than it receives for similar products sold by companies similar to X.

Third, company X also requires a deposit from customers who have a credit score below a given value. This deposit is payable directly to X and not Y at time of sale. Thus Y has no means of verifying the reason for the deposit, nor what happens to the collected money. (for example Y also sells a different product, Q, but collects the deposit, and has access to the reason for the deposit. This money moves from customer to Y to the company that makes Q.) It is important that the guarantee of the product is through Y, not X, thus Y is carrying financial responsibility for the activities of X.

Fourth, product P requires additional service, the customer cannot use P, without the physical assistance of technicians working for X. Again, Y carries no authority over this, but is the responsible party as they sold P with their good reputation backing it. Furthermore, the techs are not employed by X, they work for another company, call it Z, who is contracted to X. Thus, Z carries no authority for customer service, and in fact only performs actions at the behest of Y.

Fifth, customer service for X, is employed by X, and maintains horrible response to customer complaints, resulting in a large pool of dissatisfied customers, equal to or larger than its pool of satisfied customers. Put into numbers, customer satisfaction rating is at best, 50%, but realistically lower than 50%. Related to this fact is the normal business practice of providing sterling customer service in a new and small company as this is a typical selling point over larger well-established companies. Company X is the opposite of this normal business tactic.

Sixth, the decision to carry P at Y was not made locally, where P is sold, rather it was made at the corporate headquarters of Y, which is not local. But local department managers of Y are beginning to question the legitimacy of X.

Seventh, company X spends large sums advertising and hiring promoters and discounting the service of P, to new customers. While advertising and promoting are common and legitimate there is a creeping dishonesty in that endeavor -- one that is subtle yet real. But the deep discounts are problematic as they eliminate any revenue from the service of P, so the only revenue is from the sale of P, and the deposits needed for the service of P. Note, this loss is also subsidized via the tax code.

Eighth, the revenue from the deposits and the sale of P are under the control of X exclusively, so when a customer returns P, Y refunds the customer, to be later reimbursed by X. The deposit is the responsibility of the customer to contact X for, and X can return the deposit whenever it feels like it.

Ninth, some of the local managers of Y are beginning to suspect something is amiss, but it will take time for these conclusions to work their way up the chain of management back to Y's corporate offices. This gives X a little more time to sell more of P, but time is running out.
Now X has virtually no operating expenses because of quarterly tax subsidies, but is receiving income through the reputable company Y and the deposits. This means the real profitability is near 100%.

So what is your opinion, is company X a scam or legit? To me it seems like a classic cut and run scam. It has all the elements of the scam, a reputable company to provide cover and sales revenue, and one which would be held liable to its customers for not only sales of P, but also the deposit as well. X has virtually no out of pocket expenses, allowing them to promote for free, they skimp on customer service, leaving new customers in the cold.

All it would take is a metal suitcase full of money and a first class ticket to Rio de Janeiro to escape free and clear, leaving Y holding the bag and cleaning up the mess.

If it is a scam, then how much more time before it blows up? I'm guessing that it will be before the end of May. I have a few facts that suggest this to be the case. One fact is that X is planning to cut back on its promoters by the end of April. They are also jacking up the cost of the additional equipment needed for P. These two facts will effectively choke off new customers, maximizing profitability in May by minimizing immediate costs -- new customer service, returns to Y, and paying the promoters. Finally, June 1 is the beginning of the next tax quarter.

If you are an investor in X and not in on the scam, plan on losing money and your credibility on June 1, or soon thereafter. If you own stock in Y, plan on selling it soon, as it will take a hit once the class action lawsuits are filed (Y will undoubtedly settle, so the hit should be short term only).

If you work for X, and are in on the scam, it was nice to know you (not really), hope you send me a postcard from sunny Rio.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Judas, Jesus, Gnosis and Christianity

Let me open with a flat statement: I doubt there will be much of an impact from the relase of the text of "The Gospel of Judas" on anyone, from Biblical scholars, to the Vatican, to priests, ministers and preachers, to the Christian lay people. They will all find it interesting to some degree or other, but in the end it will change very little on their perspective of ancient Christianity. If anything, it will give more insight into the Gnostics for Biblical scholars but that is about it.

My reaction is similar. I think it will add something to debate over Thomas "The Twin" in the Gospel of John, and who was the "disciple whom Jesus loved" but in the end, its impact will be minimal. (Maybe down the road I will write about this in light of the new info on Judas.) At least it won't turn out to be a hoax like the inscription on the James Ossuary. Otherwise, it will affect little in terms of the current views of Gnostic Christians from either a theological or a skeptical point of view. I will endeavor to discuss the Gnostics and what this document really means. Hopefully you will take from it that it really does change little, other than help cement what was already known.

The Gospel of Judas paints Judas in an entirely new light, one much more positive than the traditional 'traitor' as found in the gospels... Judas was potrayed as the one disciple whom Jesus trusted with all the secrets of heaven, and who helped release Jesus from his fleshly body. This new insight into what ancient Christians believed about Judas and Jesus really would only change their view of Judas in the Passion -- if they accept it to be true. It would require a rewrite of Mel Gibson's bloody tome, but that would be about the extent of the real effect.

The first fact that jumps out from the news stories is that this document was produced by the Gnostic Christians. The Gnostics played an interesting role in early Christianity, much larger than today's Christians acknowledge or are even aware of. Paul was a gnostic, as were many of the early Church leaders. They escaped the charge of heresy because of time and popularity (fame among Christians of the time). The gnostic aspect of these founders was effectively whitewashed via a simple tool, converting the gnosis into spirit. Evidence of this still abounds today, all one has to do is open the Bible and read Paul's epistles (the letters that made him indespensibly famous). He speaks of Jesus only in spiritual terms and talks of knowledge of Jesus. He noticably never speaks of Jesus of Nazareth, and considers the Jerusalem Apostles to have no more authority than he (something that would have been impossible if Jesus had been real and had had disciples/apostles as they would be the go-to authority over Paul's conversion to apostleship).

Judas was a utilitarian tool for God/Jesus either way (either Judas was inspired by Satan or Jesus, but he still handed Him over), so it makes no difference to the actual redemptive act of death-as-sacrifice. The only real impact would be the final status of Judas' soul, heaven or hell. Liken this utilitarianism to the Pharaoh for Moses. God used him as a foil to achieve a means as well; recall that God "hardened Pharaoh's heart" towards Moses' request to free his people. It would only be a minor point of quibble over the scant passages in the canonical gospels that describe Judas' heart, as the Bible is full of contradictions elsewhere, what would one more be if it was merely who put Judas up to his act.

But is this the extent I, bible scholars, or Christians at large can take this new insight into the New Testament's most treacherous character? Or can we dig deeper and benefit from more analysis? I think so. I think even Christians would stand to gain, if only to re-emphasize the 'spiritual' origin and nature of Christianity. That was Paul's emphasis after all.

The usefulness of this new piece of history to us is to serve as concrete evidence of the broadness -- the variety -- of early Christian beliefs. This is counter-intuitive to what one would expect to find concerning those first Christians. They should all have quite consistent views concerning the facts of Jesus' life, who his disciples were, and their social structure; and by contrast, wide differences in the theological teachings of the new religion. But what we see is almost complete consistency in theology, all agree Jesus was God, all agree to Jesus' redeeming humanity, faith and belief, and the new magical powers bestowed upon the believers. According to Paul, the major disputes concerned facts, did Jesus really rise from the dead, did he intend to save gentiles, did he intend to uphold or abandon Mosaic law. These were all things Jesus supposedly preached on, according to the Gospels, so it would have been a matter of record -- fact -- not theology, although they are theological in nature.

The role of Judas is just another example of the factual disparity displayed by early Christians. This is just another fact which was disputed; whereas the underlying and more crucial theology was not. It is backwards for this simple reason: It is quick and easy to learn a story, to grasp the facts of the story, but understanding the meaning, is very difficult. Anyone can read a Shakespeare play and learn the characters, what they did, etc. But it takes great effort to understand What Shakespeare was trying to say about his society, and humanity in general, people still disagree on that. Yet the opposite was true of the first Christians, they didn't get the story, but they did get the theology.

Recall that at the time there were numerous 'messiahs' in Judah, all professing to be the 'son of God'. Thus it would have been absolutely crucial to keep the facts straight about Jesus so that false doctrines wouldn't creep into that early Christianity via confusing one messiah with another. Again this is the opposite of what we know to have happened.

The gospel of Judas, then when considered in this light, provides more evidence that the theology developed earlier; likely based on Hellenistic philosophy, reaction of Jewish theology to Roman occupation (the beginnings of midrash of the Scriptures), the messianic teacher cults that emerged from Essenism, Far Eastern mysticism, and the ancient 'mystery religions' (Paganism). The Roman empire served to bring all those cultural theologies together in one place, from which the first Christian leaders could pick and choose what to include in their new doctrine. The biggest influence on these first Christians was an intense nationalism steeped in their religious convictions of being God's 'chosen people' and the midrash of the prophet's teachings being taught in synagogues, which was challenged by the reality of emphasize events of the day -- Roman occupation, and Roman corruption of the Hebrew religion.

The messiah of the first Christians was a teacher, so he could lead his people away from the Roman influence on their religion. He was a savior who would restore the kingdom of Israel. He was a redeemer who would remove, once and for all, the sins of the Hebrews. None of this required a real human to accomplish these goals, and because God was uncorrupted with human sinfulness, he could not be human. Thus, the first we hear of Jesus, there was no humanity associated with him -- He was a person, only in the sense that a ghost or spirit was a person. Paul provides us with this evidence in his epistles.

As things got worse politically, concerning the Romans, current events needed to be included, and new teachings of Jesus as well that addressed this. This was the second level of the theology of Jesus, and again is quite consistent among the first Christians. The main schism here were the jews/gentiles who were sympathetic to the Romans, and those who wanted total liberation from the Romans. This dichotomy is witnessed in the gospel of John; the clear split in the character of Jesus, and the long 'trial' that was sympathetic to the Romans.

The third level of Jesus, is his complete humanization and creation of a back story. This making of the messiah into a complete human is witnessed in the synoptic gospels. Here is the point where the facts of Jesus come into play. The theology behind Jesus has now been around for decades and is well settled. Even in the synoptics there is a wide variance of what the life of Jesus entailed. All the different centers of Christianity had been developing their own back stories of Jesus and were unwilling to simply let them go, thus to bring in as much of these stories as possible, a ‘compound’ story was created by combining all the details as best as possible. This was done while keeping the theology intact and preserving their Hebrew heritage, and created a life and set of teachings that on the whole was very contradictory but in pieces made each Christian group happy. Once this occurred, the new religion was for the most part centralized, allowing the odd 'heresies' to be weeded out. This was necessary for the survival of the religion and the ultimate achievement of its goals: The new Kingdom of Israel, but in the Kingdom of Heaven.

So what we've seen is that Christianity was built from the ground up starting with a common cause and thus unified theology, as the religion grew and as current events changed, more was added to the religion, until finally a person was put to the name and his history was added. Since different groups had different traditions/needs/stories they had to be included to keep the religion unified. Finally the last remaining heresies were eliminated, Gnosticism being one of them. The irony is that Christianity began as a gnostic religion, but due to political pressures and the need to maintain centrality, the Gnostics were ultimately pushed out of the religion they created.

It should be apparent now that history, and the New Testament itself, tells us the real story of Christianity -- that the facts of the life of Jesus were the last aspects of the religion to be determined, this is evidenced by the wide variety of facts, when history says the opposite should be true. People would know the story of Jesus before they learned the theology of Christianity.

The gospel of Judas is simply the latest historical evidence of this truth. It proves that late in the game, people were more in agreement and steeped in understanding of the theology than they were in the facts, the life of Jesus. Recall that Gnosticism taught a spiritual Jesus, not a historical human Jesus. Thus they disputed the facts, not the theology. The fact that they too had stories of Jesus proves nothing about their belief in the humanity of Jesus. They use stories to convey the doctrines. Judas was important to them because he was the person who released Jesus. Since Gnostics didn't think they were historical people, the act of Judas was not sinful, it was only when the story came to be viewed as historical did the purpose of Judas change; it had to because he was now conspiring with the enemies, the Romans and their Jewish sympathizers (Pharisees and Sadducees). Thus Judas could no longer be viewed as a hero who released the messiah, but as the traitor who handed him over to be executed by the Romans.

It is interesting to note that the four gospels are canon and thus considered the 'Truth'. This new gospel is not considered to be the truth. What is interesting is that it is historical, in that back in the first and second centuries there were many Christians who did consider it Truth and they did so before the canon New Testament was voted on by committee. They were also living and believing much closer to the time of Christ, yet none of this will ever play in the decision-making of today's Christians; mainly concerning what this can tell them about their own religion. One would think learning the historical truth about the Truth they hold dear would be irresistibly compelling; learning what the gospel of Judas has to say about their religion. But it seems that modern doctrines are more important to them than knowing what Christians at the beginning of their religion taught as doctrine, even if it later was rejected as non-canonical. Those Christians were the ones with the most insight into the religion ever.


Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Grandfather Paradox and the First Cause

Last time we looked at time travel and the grandfather paradox. We decided that by applying rules which we knew to be true and using some logic we could fix the problem causing the paradox. We did this by breaking up the timeline into two independent components, a chronoligical component and a cause-effect component, then by placing all times and events in sequence according to the rules we determined we worked out a solution that fixed the looping of time for both the main timeline, and the timeline of our traveler.

Before continuing, I would like to revisit Hefe's personal timeline very quickly and try to clarify why it doesn't loop back any more. If we were to instead of looking at chronological time, consider only biological time, that internal timeclock that all organisms possess. Hefe, even though he travels through time is always aging, his clock is always moving forward due to his internal metabolism. Days pass for him regardless what year he is visiting. He gets tired, hungry; his heart beats in rhythm.

Time is always moving only in one direction for him, towards old age. This is true no matter what. If that "master" timeline that we discussed is compared to Hefe's biorhythms we see then why it is considered absolute.


So why did I bring all this up about the grandfather paradox; well it certainly isn't because I, or anyone else I know of, is planning any time travel soon that's for sure. So it must be important for metaphysical reasons, not scientific ones. Science just plays a role in understanding it.

In my dealings with debating Christians I often run up against arguments from personal incredulity or intuition, a logical fallacy that is very hard to deal with in short order. The reason is clear, one can quickly in a few phrases make an argument that sounds logical or seems intuitively correct on its surface. But to defeat the argument is very difficult, involving many facts and a difficult logical path. Time travel is the perfect example, that being why I chose it. It is easy to set up the paradox; If I go back in time to kill my grandfather before he met my grandmother, then I would never be born, if I was never born, then I couldn't go back and kill my grandfather....

Yet it is quite difficult to explain how time really operates; It took that entire post, and even then it is a complicated and rather incomplete explanation. You see the problem, and consequently why it is a very effective method of spreading misperception. How many people would read the grandfather paradox and think it through to see its flaw (cause must precede effect).

One of the most intriguing arguments, from my perspective is the argument concerning "First Cause", of the Universe and of God. The most concise defense of this is by my favorite target, Jonathon Sarfati of the Answers in Genesis Ministry. His piece entitled, "If God created the universe, then who created God?" is a perfect example of this type of fallacy (and a number of others). We will look at two claims he makes that deal directly with what we have learned up to this point about time and cause and effect.

Sarfati opens up with:

[If God created the universe, then who created God?]
A number of sceptics ask this question. But God by definition is the uncreated creator of the universe, so the question ‘Who created God?’ is illogical, just like ‘To whom is the bachelor married?’
So a more sophisticated questioner might ask: ‘If the universe needs a cause, then why doesn’t God need a cause? And if God doesn’t need a cause, why should the universe need a cause?’ In reply, Christians should use the following reasoning:
1. Everything which has a beginning has a cause.
2. The universe has a beginning. 1
3. Therefore the universe has a cause.
[emphasis in original -- see article for footnotes]
There are actually three fallacies here:
The first is his explanation of why the question is invalid. He is wrong, it is quite valid, and he is dodging by saying "by definition" God does not have a cause. The problem is that the definition is just supposition, and not a statement of fact. How can one go about proving it as a fact? They cannot, it is a matter of belief, the definition is a restatement of belief. For example, if I said, "The sky is the color ffopty" and I define ffopty to be the same color as the sky. Then, by Sarfati's logic I am not only correct, but irrefutably so. Because I defined it as such, and that definition was a product of my desire to do so, certainly no based on any factual evidence it is so. One can, by comparison, define blue to be the wavelength of light at 480 nanometers, and then measure the wavelength of the ambient light outside, it would be roughly 480 nanometers (with a number of other wavelengths thrown in as well). That is factual. My arbitrary definition of ffopty is based only on what I want it to be, and is useless for evaluating the sky's color. An arbitrary definition is useless as a logical point.

The second fallacy is equivocation. On what basis can one compare God and the Universe? One is supposedly purely supernatural, and the other has only ever been observed to be purely natural. What makes cause and effect follow the same rules for both, giving Sarfati the "easy out" of turning the tables and arguing about the cause of the Universe.

The third fallacy is the very cause and effect in time that we have been contemplating, in the form of his three points above (see the original article to see how he explains it).

But like I said, we will only look at two claims here, the easy one (the first), and the hard one (the third). The second one is not really interesting for our purposes, and usually one we can let slide -- for the sake of stimulating debate.

Claim one:
"But God by definition is the uncreated creator of the universe, so the question ‘Who created God?’ is illogical"
Sarfati defines God as being "uncreated", and thus asking the question is illogical. But is it really? Suppose I was a very bright scientist and I created a time machine -- I'd do it with some style and make it out of a two seater DeLorean. I would travel back and pick up someone like Plato, who was well aware of Greek Mythology, come back to the present and set him up in a debate with Sarfati, discussing this very issue. I would assign Plato to defend Zeus, the king of the gods. Of course the very first thing Plato would say is that Zeus, by definition, is the king of the gods, therefore there is no other god greater than he, and by extension God cannot be greater than Zeus. Sarfati could respond by saying that God is uncreated, by definition, and thus has to be greater than Zeus and by extension created Zeus, as he is the creator of all. It is the recently resurfaced "My God is bigger than your God" argument that we've seen on occasion coming from Christian 'leaders' regarding Allah, the Islamic God.

That little debate demonstrates nicely why defining something by belief means nothing, how is one to decide which is true, Zues is the greater god, or God is, if both by their very definitions are the very best gods. Of course, there are any number of ways to demonstrate just how absurd the argument made by Sarfati really is. It simply boils down to that he is only trying to convince the already converted. For example, one could counter that uncreated is not the same as uncaused. A cue ball hitting the 8 ball did not create the 8 ball, but it certainly caused the 8 ball to move. This of course works to your favor, in that almost always the Sarfati types will counter with, "But God is also by definition uncaused". By regressing this cat and mouse definition game back, eventually they will back themselves into a contradiction not unlike the "God is Omnipotent and Omniscient" contradiction -- it is not possible to be both. (That contradiction is an excercise for you the reader, but think of this example: imagine a super accurate map of the entire world, one so detailed that it includes a complete image of itself on the map, but that map also includes all details, which includes a complete map of itself, including a map of itself.....) Thanks go out to Dan Barker and his book, "Losing Faith in Faith" for proposing this type of rebuttal.

Claim two:
Let us now attack his argument about the universe being caused. First, does the universe have a beginning? You bet it does! Was it caused? Yes. But so what? Really, so what? Everything in the natural universe has a beginning and a cause, why should the universe be any different. Sarfati goes on at length discussing cause and effect and trying to turn my position (and others who claim the universe has a natural cause) into one of being that what we're really saying is the universe does not have a cause. I have already admitted to agreeing to his point three (although his argument of three points is really nothing but a giant Post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy, but we'll save that for another time). So his entire defense falls flat, for the simple reason is that there is a huge pool of possible explanations for the cause of the universe -- of which we cannot cover them all, but let's look at one possibility. He mentions one fact that should pique our curiosity. He claims (rightly) that time actually began at the Big Bang. Aha! Time! That sounds familiar... We have looked at cause and effect and time -- it is the grandfather paradox! Since we have already conquered that one, it should be straightforward to "expand" that one out to encompass all of time.

All we have to do here is show a possible, plausible cause to the universe, it doesn't at this point have to be how it actually occurred. The reason is simple. Sarfati, and others, posit it simply, that the only possible cause has to be God, as there clearly has to be a cause, and there are no alternatives. (There actually are alternatives, many of them.) But we can have some fun and still be well within the realm of science and possibilities.

We have already decided that the paradox would not loop infinitely, that it would all happen once, and only once, although some events would (could) happen multiple times out of chronological sequence but in cause-effect sequence. So let us take as a scientific given that time began at the big bang, we shall also take the latest scientific theory about the end of time and the universe as well, the big fade. It is a complicated theory, but simply, everything in the universe will eventually drift so far apart that the temperature of the universe and everything in it will drop to absolute zero and just blink out. What if this event triggers a time travel 'event' like our time traveller, hefe, going back in time to kill his grandfather, only this event was to travel back in time and 'cause' the big bang. Thus the reason for the universe's existence is its demise, the grandfather paradox to the extreme.

I'm not advocating this as how it really happened, merely putting forward a wild theory that could be true. Since it is an alternative and not impossible, then Sarfati's argument that there is only one possible cause is disproven, and debate over.

Maybe some time in the future, I will discuss some of the more likely causes of the universe that have much more scientific and factual grounding than being merely 'possible'. But only if I have enough time.....

Bonus fun:
if you managed to get through Sarfati's tangled mess, you came across this gem in his explanation of cause and effect:
"I have plenty of theoretical and practical experience at quantum mechanics (QM) from my doctoral thesis work [...] If QM was as acausal as some people think, then we should not assume that these phenomena have a cause. Then I may as well burn my Ph.D. thesis, and all the spectroscopy journals should quit, as should any nuclear physics research."
Care to venture which logical fallacy this is? Answer here.

I just wonder if he would do it if proven wrong? (Of course what he was arguing was a non sequitur fallacy, so his PhD is safe; although the University that issued his doctorate should consider revoking it on the grounds that no one so misinformed deserves a PhD -- oops I just committed an ad hominem attack)

I hope you enjoyed this, and happy logical thinking!


Monday, April 10, 2006

That'll Go Over Like A Lead Balloon

Consider a lead-filled balloon...
By Jeff-perado

Everyone is familiar with the concept of buoyancy and that some gasses are “lighter than air.” Balloons filled with helium float, balloons blown up with normal air do not. Another method of creating a buoyant balloon is the hot air balloon. Air is heated up, it becomes buoyant and rises, fill a large enough balloon with hot air and it can carry a person of a group of people. How much weight a balloon can support depends on the size of the balloon and the temperature of the hot air.

The physics behind this phenomenon are quite interesting and can be used to show some highly unusual effects. Consider for a moment a balloon filled with lead vapor – would it float or crash to the ground? Using this scenario as a thought experiment can demonstrate the power of some basic physical principles, namely Archimedes’ principle of buoyancy, the ideal gas law, the concept of density, and Avagadro’s number.

First let’s look at the basic equations of buoyancy and how they relate to a balloon. We will consider the problem of trying to determine how big a balloon we would need if we wanted to lift a 100 Kg mass. The balloon will be helium filled.
We will assume:
The density of helium, ρH = 0.1787 Kg/m3
The density of the air (displaced by the balloon), ρA = 1.29 Kg/m3

What we want to know is the volume of the balloon (assume a spherical balloon), V = ?
The supported weight will be referred to as the payload mass, M = 100 Kg.

The buoyant force equation is:


Rearranging this we get:


The volume of the balloon needed to lift a 100 Kg payload using helium as the gas is:


Using the equation for a sphere we can find the radius of the balloon and hence the diameter:


is the radius.

The diameter of the balloon is then: D = 5.56 m

Interestingly, determining how many smaller balloons it would take to replace the one large balloon can be done by using this relation:

Solving for N:

Assuming that we want to use balloons which are cheap and easily available, we will use a diameter of 2 feet for our balloons. This diameter translates to a radius of r = 0.3048 m.

Inserting this radius and the above determined volume into the equation we find that we need 759 balloons of a 2 foot diameter to replace the single balloon.

Examining the lead balloon problem:

We want to know if we can fill a balloon with a lead vapor and create a buoyant force. To perform this analysis, we will consider the same payload as the above example (M = 100 Kg). Also we will return to equation [2] of the buoyant force. To perform the calculation for lead vapor a few substitutions and rearrangements will need to be made:

For clarity, we will substitute ρPb for ρg.

Since we do not know the density of lead vapor, we will have to calculate it. First we know from the definition of density that:


Where MPb is the mass of the lead.in Kg, and V is the volume in m3.
Inserting this into the equation and using some algebraic manipulation:


Next we need to look at another physical principle, the ideal gas law. The ideal gas law describes the relationship between the amount of the gas and its temperature, pressure and volume. It should be pointed out that a balloon must have the same internal pressure as the external pressure of the air, or else the balloon would be either expanding or collapsing. The ideal gas law is represented by:


NPb is the number of lead atoms in the vapor
k is the Boltzmann constant (= 1.381 x 10-23 J/K)
T is the temperature of the gas (in K)
P is the pressure of the gas

Substituting in equation [4] and rearranging:


For simplification, let:

Also, the mass of an element and the number of atoms in the mass is related by Avagadro’s number, NA:


WPb is the atomic weight of lead (= 0.2072 Kg/mol)
NA is Avagadro’s number (= 6.022 x 1023 atoms/mol)

Substituting these into [6]:

Again for simplification, let:

Solving for NPb and substituting:

[8] (The Stutz Equation)

This equation says that the ratio of the number of gas atoms in the balloon to the payload mass is equal to a constant (at a specified constant temp and pressure). It is important to note that this equation only holds true if the gas in question obeys the ideal gas law -- even in this rather exotic application, it is useful to point out that the Ideal Gas Law is still a very good approximation.

Also the two values, κ and ξ have special meanings. κ is the thermal mass reduction value and is based only on the thermodynamic properties of the buoyant gas. ξ is the material mass reduction value and is based only on the elemental properties of the buoyant gas.

Now lets look at flying our lead balloon. First we need the properties of lead. The boiling temperature of lead, TB, is 2023K. The atomic weight, WPb, of lead is 0.2072 Kg/mol. Also let us assume that the pressure of the buoyant gas (and the atmosphere) is 1 atmosphere. That is
P = 1 atm = 1.10 x 105 N/m2. We will use the same payload mass, M = 100 Kg, and air density, ρA = 1.29 kg/m3.

The number of lead atoms is then:

The thermal mass reduction parameter is:

And the material mass reduction parameter is:

Plugging the value found for the number of lead atoms, NPb, back into equation [7]:

Thus heating lead to its boiling point of 2023K, it would take 2,164 Kg of lead to lift a payload of 100 Kg. Also the volume of this lead vapor balloon can be calculated from [4]:

And the density of the lead vapor is:

The only parameter we can change to reduce the mass and volume of the lead vapor is the temperature of the vapor. So let us consider changing the temperature to 2500K:

This affects the thermal mass reduction:

The number of lead atoms is then:

The mass of lead can again be found with equation [7]:

Again the volume of the balloon is calculated from [4]:

And the density of the lead vapor is:

Returning to the equation for a sphere:

The diameter of the balloon is then: D = 8.76 m

Thus to change gasses from helium to lead vapor, the diameter of the balloon would only grow by about 3 meters (with the lead vapor at a temperature of 2500K).

Fun Facts:
We discovered to lift a weight of given mass, the mass of the lead needed would have to be greater.
We can turn any metal into a "lighter than air" vapor and create a bouyant force with it, no matter how heavy (or more precisely dense) the metal is.
Its a fun mental excercise, but heating lead to that temperature, 2023 K (3182 F), is very impractical, and would burn up any ballon material, making it unworkable in practice. Did I mention that it is very hot?

The value of this mental exercise is the concept of mass reduction. Mass reduction is broken into two types, thermal mass reduction and material mass reduction. The thermal mass reduction is independent of the gas type, and only deals with the state of the gas. The material mass reduction only deals with the isotope or molecule properties. It is a function of the atomic/molecular weight of the gas alone. Thus any material that can be vaporized or exists as a gas can be put into this equation, taking into account how well it fits the ideal gas law. All that needs to be known about the material is its temperature and atomic/molecular weight.


Sunday, April 09, 2006

Then what is it, a shazzinflagin fossil?

Our bestest buds over at Answers in Genesis have chimed in over the latest discovery; an evolutionary "missing link." It is a transitional fossil of a newly discovered species, Tiktaalik roseae. It is called transitional because it has some attributes of fish, but also has some proto-features of land animals, like a moveable skull and proto-wrists. PZ Myers, as usual, has more.

Their response, "Gone Fishin' For a Missing Link" contains many laughable statements. Two in particular that I picked up on were:

It has features similar to fish:

"There is the coelacanth fish, found in the same geological system (Devonian it is called) as this Tiktaalik discovery, that also has lobe fins. These lobe fins were once thought to enable the coelacanth to walk on the ocean floor (in fact it was, like “Tiklaalik,” once considered by evolutionists to be a type of
transitional form). Later, it was determined that the coelacanth fins were used
for better maneuvering through the water, and not for walking. The new creature
uncovered in the Arctic might be something similar."

And it has features similar to land animals:

"All they have actually found is a fish that is another example of a lobe-finned fish (one of which still lives today—the coelacanth) that has bones similar in position to those seen in the arm and wrist of land-walking creatures—except these structures support fins with rays in them, not digits like fingers and
toes (and as has been stated, they are NOT connected to the axial skeleton)."

In other words they agree that it is an intermediate, but disagree with calling it transitional.

I just had to write them and ask some questions on this. Here is a copy of the email I sent to AiG:

I just finished reading your statement on the transitional fish fossil. I was wondering why the authors chose to attack the NYT article instead of the actual science articles (there were two) in Nature. You criticized the (NYT) article for using "cautionary" words, and the NYT for being the secular press. It should have been obvious to both Dr. David Menton and Mark Looy that the NYT had to use cautionary terms because it is 'secular'; that is the NYT has creationist readers as well as reality-based readers, so it has to cater to those creationist readers by including such ‘cautious' terms. So why attack science, using as your only source, the decidedly non-scientific NYT? Why not use the articles of the actual scientists who made the claims?

I would venture a guess that the reason is that the scientists didn't use those 'cautionary' terms that you built the majority of your response around. No matter what your reasoning was, it is dishonest and deceptive to your readers. An analogy would be going to the beach and beating up the 99 pound weakling, then looking at the 100 pound weakling and saying, "you want some of this?" all the while the van Dammes and Segals are looking at you saying to themselves, "is this guy nuts?" it is easy to pick on the NYT, but you seemed to ignore the real challenge – the actual science articles.

Then out of the blue, the authors wrote:
"For the moment, we can confidently state that evolutionists have no examples of mutations or evolutionary processes that can lead to an increase in genetic information[...]"
What does genetics have to do with the paleontological facts? No one claimed there was an 'increase in information' concerning this fossil. The evidence being discussed was macroscopic in nature, while genetics are molecular in nature, it was a red herring thrown out to confuse and deceive your readers. This is not even to ask just what an 'increase in information' really means. (Please don't simply point me to your article(s) like, "Evolution? It doesn't add up!," "Creation question: Snowflakes," etc., I have already read them and they only serve to confuse instead of enlighten as well, but that is a different topic). The way scientists describe the process, there is not an immediate increase at all, merely a copy of existing information, and the copied information serves no immediate purpose. Then later natural processes cause mutations in that copied information, changing its function. That is how information gets increased.

But again that is completely irrelevant in this example, because this was merely the first step in an actual scientific process, describing and understanding the fossils themselves. The molecular biology involved in understanding the genetics of this species, has not even begun and will take many, many years. Thus making a 'increase in information' argument now is just putting the cart ahead of the donkey, and fooling your readers into believing that something that has not yet occurred, in fact is years away.

Finally, concerning the actual argument made by Dr. David Menton and Mark Looy, that this is not a transitional fossil, but then they proceed to state that the reason it is not transitional is because it has some, but not all, of the characteristics of a fish, and also some, but not all, of the characteristics of a land-based animal. They admit that the leg bones are quite similar in many aspects to land walking species, but that they also have some differences, namely they are not yet fully attached to the axial skeleton – thus could only partially support the animal's weight. Again that is to say it has some features of land animals, but not all of the features. My question to the authors is what you think the definition of 'transitional' is, if it doesn't mean intermediary, possessing some features of fish and land animals, but not all the features of either? How do you define transitional then?

You claim elsewhere to use the same facts as scientists, just interpret them differently. In this case, you have come to the exact same conclusion as science (disregarding that red herring about 'increase in information'), only want to call it by something other than transitional, despite the clear truth that even by how you explained this fossil is by definition, transitional. You are free to make up any new word you like, and define it the same as transitional, but that in no way changes that your interpretation matches the definition of a transitional fossil.

You (AiG) wonder why you get no respect from science and everyone in science ignores you;well the reason is what you did here in this article. You chose to attack a secular popularized version in the NYT instead of the actual science the scientists produced, and claim that your statements knocked down the real science. How would AiG react if science attacked the AiG using an article about the AiG found in "The Onion"? The official statement of the AiG surely would be to cry foul. So why do the same thing to science by using the NYT to attack science, especially since the NYT is secular and therefore has to respect all its reader's views?

You mention that you are waiting to make any final statement because:
"No creationist to our knowledge has yet done a careful analysis on this fossil. Until one of ourscientists or an adjunct AiG researcher has conducted a careful study, we will not issue a conclusive statement."
My question is what research? The AiG, ICR, or any creationist 'researchers' are free to examine the fossils, but the truth is no creationist actually ever does any research at all. A thorough examination of the AiG q&a, and creationism journal turns up zero research. You never do any research. All that does appear are articles disputing what scientists claim, and that is not research. It is commentary, pure and simple.

In this very article you make the claim of species being static, or only 'losing information' (whatever that means). Yet where is any research by even one creationist scientist investigating what the mechanism that acts as a 'stop sign' to prevent microevolutionary (variation within aspecies) changes from adding up to a macroevolutionary (a new species evolving from an old species) change? Surely if you claim to accept that small evolutionary changes occur within a species, then you could develop a research program that determines what mechanism prevents those changes from creating a new species... Is it a genetic 'stop sign' or something else? Do some actual research, and not just critiquing real research and calling that 'research' and you might gain some respect from real scientists.

Why don't you do this already? I can only guess, but the most likely answer is that you only want to deceive your readers into thinking you do real science. But that leads me to wonder what you really are thinking, if you realize that you are only perpetrating self-deception and self-delusion onto your readers, or you actually think that 'doing research' only means critiquing facts and experiments that somehow magically appear in secular sources. You can't possibly think that the 'research' you do is the same as the research real scientists do, because then you really would have to believe that facts and experiments do just magically appear. Surely you must understand that you have to actually conduct research to claim to be a researcher.

For example, I could cite the NYT article and critique it saying it proves that the flying spaghetti monster actually designed fish and land animals, and my critique would be every bit as valid as your conclusion. If I do not add anything to support my conclusions other than my interpretation, I have not added any information. If you're truly intent on proving your interpretation as valid, you need to add information, yet not one single creationist has ever added one single piece of information; this time is most likely to be no different. Meanwhile real scientists are adding new information every single day – they conduct experiments, they dig up and analyze fossils, they observe living organisms, they conduct molecular biology experiments, etc. So, once again, if you want to gain that credibility needed to push your creationism theory, you must start adding information. That is why science is so far ahead of you on the credibility, theoretical, and evidenciary fronts, they do the work, they make the analyses, they build on what is known, they predict what will come in terms of new facts, they study and critique other scientist's work, they reproduce experiments, they test hypothesis against new evidence, and they are willing to junk bad hypotheses or analysis if found to be in error. None of that is done by creation ‘scientists'.

I look forward to your comments and responses to these points and questions I have made.

P.S. Why did you choose to mention the ‘96 Mars meteor, not once but twice? What does that have to do with this fossil? It is an apples and oranges fallacy. They have nothing to do with each other, other than they are both old and rock. You seemed to use it as an analogy, but even then the analogy makes no sense, as when the possibility was first announced, the very first thing other scientists said was that there were a lot of possibilities that it could be something else. No one in the science community said it proved life on Mars; even the scientists who did the analysis and made the announcement claimed it was [not] conclusive proof, just highly suggestive. So it was never a hoax, or a trick or a lie meant to ‘fool' the public; it was a piece of rock that looked like fossilized tracks of a unique type of bacteria. Some scientists concluded that it could be, many others, said more analysis needed to be conducted. They decided it was purely mineralology. Science worked just like it was supposed to. None of that is the case here, so it was a bad and misleading analogy for the authors to use. It clearly is a fossil, of what clearly is an animal, and it clearly has characteristics of both fish and land animals, which you admitted. Science always puts a halt to bad conclusions, maybe you should take that to heart.

P.P.S. Here is another secular article, this one from the Wall Street Journal

I have always gotten responses from AiG in the past, I will post their response when I get it.

Update: I have now received a response. Check here for it, and my comments on it.

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Thursday, April 06, 2006

Republicanism and Conservativism

Is it true that Republicans are conservative?  Overall that is certainly true.  There are some moderate Republicans left; blogojournalist Andrew Sullivan, Olympia Snowe, Lincoln Chafe spring to mind.  But the heart and the power of the party lie much farther to the right -- the very conservative.  Ironically, they claim to be mainstream, meaning that they are in line with most Americans, but the facts are that Bush languishes in the low 30s approval rating, with Republican legislators not far behind.  Not to mention that roughly two thirds of America thinks we are on the wrong track concerning policy. How this overwhelming dissatisfaction translates into 'mainstream support' is beyond my cognitive abilities.

What I want to focus on are actual current conservative policies.  They call themselves conservative but are they really?  

Conservative used to mean "tried and true", caution, traditional.  20th century conservatives supported segregation and isolationism.  Vietnam was a Democrat debacle (even though it was conservative Dems, the liberal Dems hated the war).  Those conservatives were willing to trample the first amendment in their rush to defend the second amendment.  The conservatives of yore at least pretended to honor the Constitution.  Conservatives then opposed equal rights for women, defended 'traditional' marriage by fighting interracial marriage, supported conservation of national lands and parks, fought taxes and government spending, regulation of any sort, supported limited government and states rights.  Most importantly, conservatives fought conservative religio-social issues being included in political functions on the grounds that if included, Catholics and Jews would control the country.  (This is supported by the famous JFK campaign statement promising not to let his Catholic beliefs skew his presidential duties, in response to Nixon's charges.)  The only conservative exceptions were segregation and abortion -- but this was mainly due to those issues being thrust into political discourse by Supreme Court decisions mandating laws be changed.  This brings me to one final major conservative issue that used to define conservatives, a very strong bias against the Judicial Branch of the federal government.  Claims to be believers in ‘the rule of law’ were as much of a canard then as it is now for conservatives.

Conservatives then had an anti-judicial bias then whereas today conservatives have an anti-judge bias.
According to the intent of the Constitution, the third branch of government, the Judicial Branch, was set up to protect the rights of minorities against the tyranny of the majority.  Both Executive and Legislative Branches were designed to be majority rules, they were to be voted into office, and were intended to govern according to the will of the majority -- they are the representatives of the people in Government. The opposite is true of Judges, they are not elected, rather appointed by the executive and voted on by the legislative.  Judges are to determine constitutionality of laws passed.  What this means is to make sure guaranteed rights accorded by the constitution are not taken away from certain minorities at the will of the majority.  At certain times, even the constitution itself has been checked by the judicial to ensure it meets the spirit behind the constitution:  That all humans are equal in the eyes of government, and that inalienable rights of all are protected.  This almost universally means the rights of minorities (without the power) are protected from the tyranny of the majority (with the power).

Conservatives of the day hated the Judiciary because as an institution it threatened segregation and tried to give 'coloreds' some power traditionally held by whites.  Judges of that day were 'strict constructionists' in that they believed the constitution was a living document that should reflect the ideals of the founding fathers -- and they all categorically threw out segregation.  Conservatives didn't want to remove judges  they wanted to eliminate the institution because as an institution all judges were 'strict constructionists'.

Conservatives today are the opposite, they want to keep the judicial branch and turn it into a theocratic judicial institution.  They want to rid the judiciary of so-called activist judges (those very same 'strict constructionists' of yesteryear) and replace them with theocratic judges who want to shred the entire constitution and replace it with a 'Christian Nation' monarchy -- all the while claiming that was the true intent of the founding fathers.  Thus laying claim to the term 'strict constructionists' judges.  Thomas Jefferson wrote the Danbury Baptist Church and told them the first amendment was meant to be a  "wall of separation of Church and State", yet conservatives today claim that Jefferson was only foolin', and that it was not the intent of the founding fathers.  It is this type of twisted logic that they lay claim to in their non-reality-based community.  Only absent reality can that type of logic make sense.  Today, the rule-of-law conservatives advocate the murder of judges who protect the constitution from the conservative's butchery.  Pat Robertson and Ann Coulter have come out with these types of statements publicly.  Tom Delay, Rick Santorum, and a number of other conservative legislators have also released strongly worded threats against these judges.

Let us break it down, today’s conservatives are FOR:
  1. Nation Building

  2. torture

  3. warrantless wiretaps

  4. bigger Government

  5. large deficits

  6. corruption

  7. assassination of ‘activist’ judges

  8. permanent incarceration without formal charges or a trial

  9. Corporate welfare while Pell grant money evaporates

  10. influence of special interest groups over what’s best for the American people

  11. cronyism and nepotism over talented, skilled and knowledgeable people

  12. skyrocketing gas prices while Oil Companies rake in record profits

  13. gouging Grandma and Grandpa in favor of lining the pockets of Pharmaceutical Companies

  14. protecting party allies who damage national security by leaking classified information

  15. hiding (and/or covering up) information affecting policies Americans care deeply about (Energy policy, etc.)

  16. spreading propaganda through the media in place of facts and truth

  17. causing the deaths of nearly 2,500 patriotic Americans based on a BIG LIE (not to mention seriously wounding over 15,000 patriotic Americans)

  18. stifling protest against government actions

  19. hiding the fact that an entire American City was destroyed when it could have been saved

  20. taking vacation and ignoring warnings that this country could be attacked by terrorists

  21. sitting on one’s hands for SEVEN minutes doing nothing while this country was being attacked, then hiding for the rest of the day

Today’s conservatives are AGAINST:
  1. Congressional oversight of anything the president does

  2. Allowing ALL Americans to keep their rights given them in the Bill of Rights

  3. Conserving our national forests

  4. Making this country energy independent by developing new energy sources (unless its more oil)

  5. Protecting this country from terrorist attacks by refusing to inspect imports and by giving away control of our ports to proven terrorist-supporting countries

  6. state’s rights, if states want to allow same-sex marriages or abortions

  7. The American Dream, stifling all hope for advancement through education or hard work and by placing the tax burden on the working poor and middle class

  8. The Statue of Liberty

  9. Freedom of Religion, if the religion is anything other than protestant Christianity

  10. America’s competitive edge in science and technology

  11. serving in the military, rather slapping a “I support the troops” magnet on their car is enough

  12. patriotism.  Anyone who stands up for the values the founding fathers fought and died for are now branded traitors

  13. reality, they make their own reality, and no facts or truths will stop them from this goal

  14. Democracy.  The American people are not knowledgeable or wise enough to know how to govern, only conservatives can do this, thus they should not be allowed to participate

  15. Democracy.  Free elections are irrelevant, if voters can be disenfranchised in Florida and Ohio, all the better

  16. Democracy.  Gerrymandering is not only good, it’s God’s way.

  17. Democracy.  If petty and cruel dictators support our objectives, who cares about democracy in those countries.

  18. Democracy.  Muslim countries who elect Muslim governments are illegitimate, but Pluralistic countries who have their government hijacked by Christians are perfectly legitimate.

  19. Democracy.  George Bush is above the law and do anything he wants because he is president.  Bill Clinton gets impeached because he lied about getting his dick sucked.

  20. Democracy.  Far-right Christian leaders can shape policy in this country, regardless of their status as elected officials

  21. Democracy.  Iraq…  Need I say more?

WWGS?  (What would Goldwater say?)